Lee wins, but can Phillies get him to the top?

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Lee wins, but can Phillies get him to the top?

BOX SCORE

MINNEAPOLIS -- The singles-hitting Phillies scored just enough runs to break a season-long, five-game losing streak and get Cliff Lee a much-deserved win Thursday night.

The 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins was another of those tooth-and-nail jobs in which everything has to go right for the Phillies to win. They put together a nice little rally in the top of the eighth to get Lee the lead and Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon closed it out. Papelbon earned his 12th save in his first save chance since May 29 (see Instant Replay).

Lee improved to 8-2 on the season and 7-1 in 10 starts following a Phillies loss.

Obviously, the Phillies have done a lot of losing this season. They are just 2-5 on this trip and 32-35 on the season, 7½ games behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East.

July is right around the corner and with the Phillies sputtering, Lee’s name will soon be hot in trade rumors. Hey, it already is.

So what does ol’ Cliff think?

He offered a glimpse into his thoughts in a chat with reporters after the game. Here it is in Q & A form:

Q: You came here to win. How tough is it to be here on a team that’s spinning its wheels around .500 and has a real uphill road?

A: “The past year and a half hasn’t gone the way I anticipated, but that’s why you play the games. You never know. I don’t think anyone here is happy with the way we’ve played over that time frame. It’s due to a lot of injuries. There’s some good excuses. But they’re still excuses. We’re the Philadelphia Phillies. We should play better than we have. There’s not a good excuse for it, but we have had a lot of key guys injured, so it is what it is.”

Q: As currently constituted, do you think this team can be a playoff team?

A: “What?”

Q: With the current makeup of this team, do you think it can be a playoff team?

A: “I can’t look at it any other way besides I expect us to win and catch up with the Braves and get into the postseason. That’s the only way you can look at it.”

Q: If it doesn’t turn around, do you want to stay?

A: “I definitely want to win. There’s no doubt about that. I want to win. I don’t know how to say it besides that. I want to win.”

Q: If it doesn’t turn around, are you prepared to stay here for two months and play out the string?

A: “I don’t have any control over that. I know that I want to win and I’ll voice that to whoever. And that’s that. I want to win here. That’s why I signed here and that’s where my focus is.”

Q: Are you surprised it’s gone like this the last two seasons? (The Phils won the NL East with Lee in 2011, but missed the playoffs last year.)

A: “We had one chance at it in 2½ years. This year is not over yet. I expected to get multiple shots at it. But there are 29 other teams thinking the same thing. So nothing is going to be given to you and nobody feels sorry for you. You’ve got to go earn it. I’m going to keep doing what I can to give this team a chance to win when I pitch and that’s really all I can control.”

There’s some interesting stuff in there.

Foremost, Lee was given the opportunity to say he wanted to remain with the Phillies even if they continued to plod along out of the money, and he wouldn’t commit to it.

Lee has a limited no-trade clause in which he can block deals to 20 teams, but no-trade clauses can be negotiated away. With his 35th birthday approaching, it’s difficult to imagine Lee blocking a deal that would send him to a team with a chance of winning a World Series. That is if the Phillies decide to move him. There is a school of thought that they will hang on to him, cross their fingers for a second-half run and try to get it together with Lee and Cole Hamels at the top of the rotation next season.

But can Lee, hungry to win and tired of losing, wait that long?

We’ll see.

In the meantime, savor every Lee start. Like this one. He allowed just three hits over seven innings, walked one and struck out six. He faced the minimum through 6 1/3 before allowing a walk, an infield single and a two-run double on his only bad pitch of the night, a hanging 0-2 cutter to Justin Morneau. Lee didn’t make it past the seventh because he had a blister on his middle finger.

Down a run in the top of the eighth, Kevin Frandsen (pinch-hit double) started a two-run rally that allowed the Phils to retake the lead. Jimmy Rollins’ ground out scored Ben Revere (four hits) with the go-ahead run and Adams and Papelbon did the rest.

“Cliff pitched too well to lose that game,” Frandsen said.

Phillies-Diamondbacks 5 things: Nothing but quality from Ben Lively?

Phillies-Diamondbacks 5 things: Nothing but quality from Ben Lively?

Phillies (24-48) at Diamondbacks (46-28)
10:10 p.m. on TCN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies, believe it or not, bring a two-game winning streak into Saturday night. Seriously! Led by six strong innings from Mark Leiter Jr., the Phillies beat the Diamondbacks 6-1 on Friday, picking up their first win over the D-backs this season. Can Ben Lively make it three straight? Or will Robbie Ray turn out the lights on the Phillies offense?

Here are five things to know for late Saturday night:

1. High quality
In tonight's start, Lively has the opportunity to become first Phillie since 1943 to begin his career with five quality starts. His first four starts have made him the most reliable starter in the Phils' rotation despite the team's 1-3 record in those appearances.

Better yet for Lively, he's coming off a strong start against these very same D-backs. It was a rocky beginning for the 25-year-old righty. He gave up two home runs within the first five batters he faced and ceded a 3-0 lead to his opposition. Plenty of pitchers -- see the rest of the staff this season -- would have folded after such a lackluster start. But Lively had some moxie in him. 

He gave up just four hits over his last five innings. He worked his way out of a third-and-first, no-out jam. And he finished his afternoon with a 1-2-3 inning. You never would have guessed watching the first inning that he'd actually leave in line for the win.

Lively also began to actually strike people out. That was his main bugaboo in his first few starts. With just 3.7 strikeouts per nine innings, one would predict he'd sport a higher ERA. His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is 4.88, a run and a half higher than his 3.33 ERA. Maybe Chase Field will be his Waterloo, but Citizens Bank Park could have easily played a similar role.

A side-note, but Lively's nickname is Bee-bo. I don't know what we should do with that, but it is worth mentioning. I'm sure that will help explain his results tonight, good or bad.

2. Ray of Ks
While the Phillies offense has looked pedestrian at times this year, they got to the hottest pitcher in baseball on Sunday. 

Ray came into Sunday with some downright filthy numbers over his previous five games: He was 5-0 with a 0.24 ERA, allowing just one run over 37 innings. He struck out 48 batters in that span and allowed just 24 baserunners, including just 14 hits. Batters hit just .115/.182/.164 against him. 

The Phils? Well, they broke out the bats and got to him on a hot afternoon at CBP. They produced 12 baserunners (eight hits, four walks) and four runs, smacking two solo homers against the 25-year-old lefty. He lasted just 5 1/3 innings, his shortest outing since May 14.

For the season, Ray is 7-3 with a 2.87 ERA and 114 Ks in 87 2/3 innings. It's a far cry from his 4.90 ERA last season, although his strikeout rate is about the same. He walks more batters than ever (four per nine innings) but limits hits at a career-best rate, bringing his WHIP down to 1.141. 

As for a repertoire, Ray works off his mid-90s fastball, turning to his mid-80s slider and low-80s curveball for offspeed offerings. All three pitches have been effective this season, but his offspeed stuff has been particularly strong. 

3. Torey Lovullo and a real contender
When the baseball season began back in April, it was tough to see the Diamondbacks as legitimate contenders. At 69-93 in 2016, the team was just one game better than the worst record in the National League and they didn't make many appreciable changes to the roster. 

The main changes came up top: Mike Hazen was hired as the team's new general manager and Torey Lovullo came aboard as manager. Whatever magic they've brought with them has made a big impact as the team is within a game of the Dodgers for the NL West crown. Even better, they lead the NL wild card chase and are nine games clear of a playoff spot. Sure, it's only June 24, but that's a nice place to be. 

The managerial role can be overrated in baseball. The skipper can be handed the blame for a team that isn't performing even when it is mostly due to a roster that can't get it done. But Lovullo seems to have this team working well. He had received rave reviews when he filled in for John Farrell in 2015. His short stint made him a top candidate for the position and Hazen, also a Red Sox alum, was able to pluck him from Boston.

And things have fallen in line in the desert. Zack Greinke has bounced back to form along with the rest of the rotation. The Bullpen has looked pretty good since Fernando Rodney snapped into form after April. And their lineup, as Corey detailed yesterday, is a force with which to be reckoned. Having those three factors working for them -- together with some aggressive baserunning -- and D-backs have a real contending chance this year.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: With his two-run shot in the ninth inning on Friday, Tommy Joseph has hit home runs in back-to-back games for the second time this year (May 9-10 vs. the Mariners)

Diamondbacks: Shortstop Chris Owings has a nine-game hitting streak going after a single in the series opener. He had a home run off Lively on Sunday.

5. This and that
• This year is starting to look like last year, at least in how the Phillies are playing the D-backs. In 2016, they were swept at CBP before returning the favor at Chase Field. This year, a sweep at CBP before taking the first game in the desert. 

• As mentioned above, Arizona makes things happen on the basepaths. Going into this series, the team led baseball with 18.2 base running runs above average according to Fangraphs. The Phillies are 24th with -7.0 runs above average.

• Howie Kendrick, Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr all have home runs off Ray in their careers. Kendrick is 5 for 22 with two walks against the lefty. Odubel Herrera is 4 for 9. 

• Lively allowed homers to Owings and Paul Goldschmidt on Sunday. Brandon Drury went 2 for 2 with a double.

Best of MLB: Royals storm back in 9th inning for win over Blue Jays

Best of MLB: Royals storm back in 9th inning for win over Blue Jays

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Whit Merrifield hit a two-run, two-out double that capped a four-run rally in the ninth inning, and the Kansas City Royals beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-4 on Friday night to reach .500 for the first time since April.

With their 10th win in 12 games, the Royals improved to 36-36. They were 6-6 before play on April 20, then went on a nine-game losing streak that night and dropped as low as 10-20, seven games out of first place. They trail AL Central-leading Cleveland by three games.

Toronto took a 2-1 lead into the ninth and extended it when Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak hit RBI singles off Joakim Soria (4-2) (see full recap).

Dodgers cruise past Rockies for 8th straight win
LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig homered and left-hander Alex Wood kept his record perfect as the streaking Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the NL West rival Colorado Rockies 6-1 on Friday night for their eighth consecutive victory.

The Dodgers have won 14 of their last 15 games. They have scored at least six runs in seven consecutive games.

Wood (8-0) allowed one run in six innings. He gave up only three hits and walked two, retiring his last 10 batters.

The Dodgers have homered in 15 consecutive games, tied for fourth-longest streak in club history. The last time they managed it was in 1977. Their record is 24 consecutive games with a home run.

Rookie left-hander Kyle Freeman (8-4) allowed five runs and a career-high 10 hits and three walks in six innings (see full recap).

Torreyes hits walk-off single to lift Yanks over Rangers
NEW YORK -- Ronald Torreyes hit a game-winning single with two outs in the 10th inning after midnight, and the New York Yankees edged the Texas Rangers 2-1 on a rainy Friday night for just their second win in 10 games.

Brett Gardner lined a tying home run with one out in the New York ninth off closer Matt Bush. After Chasen Shreve (2-1) escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the 10th, Torreyes kept the Yankees atop the AL East.

Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka kept it scoreless into the late innings in the first major league meeting between the Japanese stars (see full recap).